Every year, AMINEF holds an English competition for one student from each of the ETAs’ high schools. Ideally, they hold their own competition within their schools, and then the winner gets an all-expenses paid trip to the country’s capital with their American teacher.
At our schools, we were supposed to narrow our entries down to three finalists, which was quite easy for me since I only had three entries at all. At first, I really tried recruiting students who I knew were better English speakers, but most of them dismissed me with an “If-God-wills-it-I-will-enter.” Unfortunately for me, I guess God didn’t will any of them to enter.
After a while I stopped pushing them, because I felt bad forcing them to write poems and essays knowing I would only choose one in the end. It worked out wonderfully anyway.
My winner was Septia Sastika Angelina. She sang and danced to Palembang’s traditional song “Gending Sriwijaya.” You’re allowed to sing and dance to an Indonesian song at an English competition? Well, yes. She just had to include a one-minute introduction explaining how her performance was related to the theme “The Changing World outside my Window.”
Septia’s introduction was beautiful, though I think it might have been overlooked a bit in the midst of all her singing and dancing. She explained how understanding a traditional dance is reflective of her changing world, because while her country and culture are always evolving, she knows how important it is to value the past.
My school—bless their hearts—which doesn’t have a scanner or functioning printer, does have an official school traditional costume and a bag of official school make-up. Septia was obviously distressed that no one would be around to put on her make-up. I offered to do it, and my teachers seemed shocked that I knew how.
I was slightly offended at first. Sure, I might not always wear make-up to school, but I understand the concept of applying blush. Oh, no. Not in Indonesia, I don’t. They spread out the hundreds of pieces of make-up in front of me the day before we left, and it was about the equivalent of telling me to reassemble some giant military weapon. No way could I handle eyelash glue, facial whitener, etc.
Septia was so intimidated at first by all the English speakers. She’s in Level 2 at my school (out of 5), so she’s not the highest level at IGM and was worried she wouldn’t be able to keep up. I think she was even nervous at the idea of being alone with me. But as soon as our adventure began, she completely transformed and became this social creature I’d never seen at school. For many of the students, it was the first time they'd been on an airplane or visited Jakarta.
We traveled with Rajiv and his student, Brigitta. The girls were so excited and had spent the weeks before talking over facebook and texting.
Septia did a wonderful job. I was like a proud parent, snapping pictures and taking video. Sadly, she didn’t win (none of the performance pieces did cough cough), but Brigitta won Best Use of English for her poem “Smile.”
I felt like the weekend was a sort of fast-forwarded commercial on child-rearing. On Friday morning, I was asking her if she was hungry or thirsty every fifteen minutes. By Saturday night, when I asked what she wanted to do with our free time, she looked at me shyly and said, “Miss, would it be ok if maybe instead I went to a movie with my new friends?”
The next morning AMINEF scheduled a visit for all of us to Monas, the national monument. Septia and Brigitta were happy, but exhausted. I asked how late they’d stayed up the night before. “Miss, please do not be angry, but I did not sleep until midnight,” Septia said. I assured her that I wasn’t in the least angry.
Our return was smooth, but little Septia decided to skip school the Monday after we were back. On Tuesday, I asked her if she was actually ill or just really tired, and she said, “Sick and tired, Miss Ketty. Sick and tired. You teach me that.”
It broke my heart as one-by-one, the teachers at school asked her if she won and she had to tell each of them no. But once we got through that, Septia was happy again. Now, though, she says, “Miss Ketty, I miss my new friends so much, and I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again.” The good news is, because we’re in Indonesia, she texts all of her favorites about a billion times a day to reminisce.